In what is perhaps a surprise to no one, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts will be running for the federal Conservatives in South Surrey.
Watts revealed the news to The Leader in her first sit-down interview on the subject Tuesday under the condition that it not be made public until late Wednesday afternoon.
Watts said earlier this year she would not run again for mayor of Surrey, but kept her future plans quiet.
The popular three-term mayor will be running in the riding of South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale (which will be renamed South Surrey-White Rock in a redistribution before the 2015 election) for the federal Conservatives.
The riding has been a right-wing stronghold since the early 1970s, with current Tory MP Russ Heibert announcing in February he would not be running for a fifth term.
Watts describes herself as a small “c” Conservative with a well-developed social conscience. Watts said she was not offered, nor did she ask for, a cabinet post to run for the Conservatives.
The number-one issue she sees for the riding is rail safety: slope stabilizations issues, blockages of traffic by rail and a trestle bridge in dire need of repair.
“That would be the one significant issue,” Watts said, adding the City of Surrey has identified about five areas where the White Rock and South Surrey BNSF railway track could be relocated.
“If I’m elected, I will certainly be working very closely with the city in terms of the work that’s been undertaken,” Watts said.
Added to her list of issues in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale is truck traffic.
“We have the second-largest border crossing in the country,” Watts said. “We have almost a million trucks going back and forth across the truck crossing each and every year.”
That has a significant impact on roads and communities, she said.
The 16 Avenue off-ramp is complete, but Watts said more work needs to be done. She said Surrey has done well with securing federal infrastructure funding and she wants to make sure that continues.
From a federal perspective, for Watts, it comes down to which party to trust.
With conflicts erupting in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, a Tory government is the one she wants in place to deal with those issues.
“Canada has a moral obligation to be involved, to play a leadership role and that’s one of the things I’m significantly proud of right now,” Watts said. “We are taking a leadership role.”
There are other issues she wants to bring to Ottawa. She is fully supportive of the Northern Gateway pipeline, saying the 209 conditions to be met ensure it will be built with environmental safety.
She pointed out what it would mean if Canada stopped oil production tomorrow.
“There would be significant impact globally, because hundreds of thousands of people would perish (due to issues around) heating and cooling, food safety, health, emergency services, all of those things,” Watts said.
That said, she believes the country should be “transitioning out” of fossil fuels.
She also said she would examine what’s being done on the national housing front to see if it can be done better.
She wants to continue Surrey’s long-fought battle to have cities receive their share of a gas tax in order to pay for transportation.
And she wants to find a way cities can become aware of residences that have housed licensed medical marijuana grow operations. City officials have long said they need to be inspected for fire safety. Ottawa has countered that it’s a privacy issue.
As to her long-standing concern about a more equitable sharing of funding for RCMP, Watts said she would also look into that.
Currently, the federal government pays 10 per cent of the policing cost and Watts has always said it should be more.
She acknowledges there’s a contract in place, but says if all parties agree, it could be changed.
As to what skills she brings as a candidate for the riding and representative in Ottawa, Watts says there are a few.
“There are a number of skill sets I think that I bring to bear,” Watts said. “I do believe it is the integrity that I have carried through my tenure as mayor, the ability to bring people together and to deal with issues head-on.”
With a civic election on Nov. 15, will she be able to work with a new mayor?
Watts had a well-publicized split from Doug McCallum (who is running this year with the Safe Surrey Coalition) when she took the mayor’s chair from him in 2005, and has a similar bitter relationship with Coun. Barinder Rasode (who will announce her run for mayor this weekend).
Watts said she can work with either of them.
“It’s my intention to work with everyone,” Watts said. “It’s a matter of taking the high road, identifying the issues and getting the work done.”
“I do have a great working relationship with Coun. Hepner (who is running for mayor under the Surrey First banner).
Watts says she will remain actively involved in helping Hepner with her campaign.
South Surrey riding at a glance:
The new South Surrey-White Rock riding includes the electoral area formerly included in the ridings of Surrey (1966-71), Surrey-White Rock (1971-76), and Surrey-White Rock-North Delta (1976-87).
It reverted to Surrey-White Rock from 1987-1990, then became Surrey-White Rock-South Langley (1990-96), South Surrey-White Rock-Langley (1996-2003) and South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale (2003 to the present).
New electoral boundaries announced in early 2013 will slice Cloverdale from the riding for the 2015 federal election, placing it in newly created Cloverdale-Langley, which will include the fast-growing Clayton area of Surrey.
The largely suburban/rural riding – which includes Semiahmoo First Nation reserve land and two of Western Canada’s busiest U.S. border crossings – has long been considered a stronghold for representatives of Canada’s conservative parties (including the former Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance).
Progressive Conservative backbencher Benno Friesen was the region’s five-term federal representative, from 1974-93.
He was succeeded by Val Meredith, who served from 1993 to 2004, first elected as a member of the Reform party. The party transitioned into the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative party during her second and third terms, and she failed to gain the Conservative nomination in 2004, when Russ Hiebert (left) was, in the words of some, “parachuted” into the riding and was re-elected in four consecutive elections.
A staunch supporter of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – though he was never awarded a cabinet post – Hiebert has weathered storms over high personal expenses in 2008-09 (highest that year for a B.C. MP and the second-highest in Canada) and murmurings of discontent among longtime Conservatives in the area, which came to a head in early 2011.
The riding was last contested in 2011, when Hiebert successfully outpaced challengers Hardy Staub (Liberal), Susan Keeping (NDP), Larry Colero (Green), Brian Marlatt (Progressive Canadian), Mike Schoute (Christian Heritage) and independents David Hawkins, Aart Looye and Kevin Donohoe.
In February of this year, Hiebert surprised many in announcing he would not be seeking a fifth term, saying it was time for him and his family to “move on to new challenges.”
As recently as March, Electoral District Association President Jerry Presley denied the Conservatives were wooing Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts as a federal candidate for the riding.
He said she had not approached him to run, and that there had been no discussion of the idea at the local riding level.